Trip Log: Puebla

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I have long been in love with Don Goyo; the name of my husband, Greg, but also the nickname of Popocatéptl, México’s beloved and active volcano. For years I have been wanting to get close to take some special photos, and that desire has grown this year as the volcano has been so very active.

The trouble is that, as with most any volcano, clouds often shroud the view. Add to that the smog and heat haze from the nearby cities of Puebla and Cholula, and my research showed me that I would have to be very lucky to have clear weather. I talked with a few photographer friends, I researched photo locations on the internet… I wanted to be ready for the next eruption.

Then one of my god daughters invited her mother and me to Mexico City, to present at her university. What fortuitous timing! The trip would be in the fall, during cempasúchil (marigold) season, just before Day of the Dead. I had seen those killer shots of the orange flower fields in the foreground with Popo as the focal point, and I was eager to attempt my own version.

Fortunately also, my son is living with us for a few months before he goes on to his next adventure. He agreed to join me on the trip. I made the lodging arrangements; the young chef and bartender was in charge of food and drink. We hit the ball out of the park on both counts, and the weather joyously cooperated with us as well. If you are planning a trip to Puebla, I trust this post might help you. If not, I trust you’ll at least enjoy some of the photos from the journey.

Monday and Tuesday: Puebla
I met Danny at the Mexico City airport, where he was flying in from Mazatlán. There we rented a car for the week. The easy and very scenic drive to Puebla took about an hour and 45 minutes. It was a bit challenging to get out of the airport and onto the correct highway, but Google Maps on our phone and the instructions from the car rental helped a lot. There are many affordable buses that take you this route as well, leaving from within Mexico City itself or from the airport. We wanted the car so we could drive out through the countryside to take photos. If that’s not important to you, the bus would be easier and probably cheaper (the road has tolls).

The drive to Puebla from Mexico takes you north of Popocatépetl and his princess volcano, Izteccihuatl. You pass loads of gorgeous churches on hilltops—that seems to be a thing in the state of Puebla—and you also see Malinche volcano to the northeast of Puebla City. It was an incredibly clear day; as I took the Uber to the airport to meet Danny, we could see all three volcanoes clearly from Mexico City, something I was assured was very lucky indeed.

Arriving in Puebla we checked into our hotel. I had chosen the NH Hotel Centro Histórico for two reasons: it was in the middle of the historic center, and it appeared to be one of the taller hotels in the area, so I figured we might get a good view. But first, we were hungry! And very much in the mood for some mole poblano!

Luckily for us, a few doors away is Fonda La Mexicana, with terrific ambience, delicious food and excellent service at very affordable prices. Danny had chicken mole, I had enchiladas with three different moles, and we also enjoyed some really interesting and tasty cocktails. I was very much liking Puebla already! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

After comida we walked the two blocks down to the zócalo, toured the cathedral, and admired the historic center’s architecture. Feeling lazy (Danny had a cold, I’d gotten sick in Mexico City), we opted for one of those bus tours of the city and very much enjoyed it. The views from up top, in the “zone of the forts,” are incredible day or night! Puebla, of course, is where the Cinco de Mayo battle was fought in 1862 (Battle of Puebla in Spanish), with General Zaragoza defeating the French.

The special in nearly every restaurant for Day of the Dead was huaxmole de espinazos or mole de caderas—a very typical seasonal dish of the Mixteca Poblana that is a stew of goat meat or pig spinal cord and green bean-like legumes (huajes). We fell in love with cemitas, the local style of torta sandwich; you absolutely MUST try them, any time of day! Another meal worth mentioning was that in El Mural de los Poblanos, where chiles en nogada were served for the very first time on August 2, 1821. Danny and I found it a bit too touristy/kitschy for our taste, but the food was good (pricey).

We then had plenty of time for our sunset photo session of the volcanoes. The receptionist of the hotel sadly had told us that none of the rooms were high enough to have a view of the volcano, but she gave us one facing the San Agustín Church. What an incredibly fortuitous surprise! I had not realized we would be right across the street from this gorgeous temple with its Byzantine style dome, built from 1555 to 1612. Danny and I walked up to the rooftop pool and conference room area. Bingo! Killer views of the volcanoes! As an added bonus, Templo San Agustin’s dome and tower made an excellent foreground. The sunset was amazing, with the sun’s rays emanating out in a way that almost looked surreal.

While Danny rested up, I headed out with my camera after dark to take some night shots of historic downtown Puebla. I learned that they also do night bus tours (I wasn’t interested, but the man sure did hit on me!)

We woke up before sunrise the next morning, and were again regaled with some incredible views from atop the hotel; this time the volcanoes glowed purple. The city at night also showed very nicely.

In Puebla we absolutely loved visiting the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, the oldest library in the Americas (25 pesos includes a free guided tour): a UNESCO “Memory of the World” and Mexican National Historic Landmark.

I was fascinated by the tour of a talavera workshop, as I love the art of handmade pottery. The one I visited was called Uriarte Talavera, and a tour through their facilities is something I’d highly recommend (I think it cost 50 pesos). The guide took us through every step of the process, from mixing the clays to making the pieces, drying and firing, to stenciling, painting, glazing and firing again. It was fascinating, as you can tell from the photos. There are also a museum and showroom on site.

I took two short videos. One explains how the workers tell if a piece is “good” or if it was damaged in the kiln. Here’s a job I think I could actually handle!

The other explains the information that is hand-painted on the back of every piece of talavera made in the workshop.

There is a whole lot to see and do in Puebla, including some incredible cooking schools and classes. A photographer friend of mine took us back up to the fort area to see sunset and the night view the second night we were in town. I had been so focused on Popo and Izta volcanoes that before we went I had not realized how gorgeous La Malinche would be from the city. There is an African Safari park nearby, and tours of some beautiful villas in the small towns of the Puebla area. Our two and a half day visit felt quite short.

To read about the next portion of this trip click here.